Cliff May

At some point this year, President Obama is expected to ask the Senate to ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty, known to its critics as LOST. Every living former secretary of state has endorsed LOST. The U.S. Navy is on board. So are many business groups. Can they all be wrong? As former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld said this month in an op-ed and testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “Yes.”

LOST has been kicking around for decades. The “Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations had all gone along with it,” Rumsfeld noted, before it landed on the desks of President Reagan and then–British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Both were adamant in their opposition, seeing it as a “sweeping power grab” by international bureaucrats seeking to create “the largest mechanism for the worldwide redistribution of wealth in human history.”

The late Jeane Kirkpatrick, ambassador to the U.N. under President Reagan, testified against the treaty in 2004, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee that it would “diminish our capacity for self-government, including, ultimately, our capacity for self-defense.”

Ratification of the treaty would make the U.S. a member of the “International Seabed Authority,” an “autonomous international organization” that was established in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1994. The Authority currently has 161 member states including Zimbabwe, Belarus, Cuba, and Sudan, and if the U.S. joins we will have an equal voice — though we will be obliged to contribute 22 percent of the budget, under the same formula used for U.N. funding.

But that’s the least of it. Accession, Rumsfeld stressed, means giving the Authority the power to “regulate American citizens and businesses,” even though it “would not be accountable politically to the American people.”

The U.S. would accept the Authority’s control of all ocean resources. We would agree to transfer to the Authority a share of all wealth Americans produce, now and forever, from the seas, including from the American continental shelf, the seabed contiguous to our coasts. These payments would be called “international royalties” but with equal accuracy they could be called a new tax on Americans — one paid not to the U.S. Treasury for the benefit of Americans, but to an institution of global governance. This would set a historical precedent, one with far-reaching implications.

“Over time, hundreds of billions of dollars could flow through the ‘Authority’ with little oversight,” Rumsfeld told Congress. “The United States could not control how those revenues are spent. . . . It would constitute a massive form of global welfare, courtesy of the American taxpayer.”

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.